DETROIT – Honda surprises the media at its 2017 North American International Auto Show press conference with the announcement of a dedicated hybrid coming to the U.S. in 2018.

But the automaker is keeping mum on whether it is a return of the Insight.

“We’re not announcing that,” John Mendel, executive vice president-American Honda, tells WardsAuto when asked if the vehicle will wear the Insight name. Honda discontinued the second-generation Insight in 2014 in the U.S.

Mendel says the forthcoming dedicated hybrid will not be part of the Clarity alternative-powertrain vehicle family. The automaker launched sales of the new Clarity hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicle last month in California, while plug-in hybrid and all-electric versions go on sale this year in the U.S. The PHEV is a 50-state model, while the EV will be relegated to the nine U.S. states adhering to California’s zero-emission-vehicle rules.

The new dedicated hybrid will use the automaker’s 2-motor hybrid system from the Honda Accord Hybrid, among other models. The Accord Hybrid is a 2017 Wards 10 Best Engines winner.

Honda still owns the trademark on Insight, a search of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database confirms. No other obvious names for hybrids stand out. The automaker applied last month to once again trademark Passport for “automobiles and automobile structural parts.” Honda sold a Passport small SUV in the U.S. in the 1990s, but it was not a hybrid vehicle. In terms of defunct model names, Honda also maintains trademarks for Prelude and Element.

The Japanese automaker additionally announces it is pursuing “hybridization where it makes sense” with more hybrid variants planned, including of light trucks.

Mendel doesn’t discuss specific models, but in October he told WardsAuto Honda was planning a CR-V hybrid, but “not in the near-term.”

Annual sales volume will not be the only factor in whether a model gets a hybrid variant, with Mendel noting “scope, size and usage” of the vehicle also will influence the decision.

Rumors suggest the Odyssey minivan and Pilot midsize CUV will get hybrid variants, given rivals already have matching offerings (Chrysler Pacifica, Toyota Highlander) and Honda has hybridized the Acura MDX, which rides on the same platform as the Odyssey and Pilot.

With gasoline prices relatively low across the U.S. ($2.37 per gallon on average for regular, says AAA), selling alternative powertrain models is a risk. But Mendel says Honda is “focusing on the value equation. What we do know is given the right value equation, people buy the right vehicle,” he says, inferring high premiums on green cars have harmed their sales potential.

“With a $2,000 or $3,000 premium, or $8,000 premium, people are going, ‘You know, the gas is pretty cheap right now,’” he says of buyer reluctance to fork over money that might not produce a payback in fuel savings.

Meanwhile, Honda is content with the number of hydrogen refueling stations in California, roughly 30, to support the Clarity FCV.

“The good news is unlike previous generations of Clarity there are already shovels in the ground, as opposed to, ‘Hey, we have a plan.’ So that infrastructure is expanding quickly,” Mendel says.

Honda sold eight Claritys last month in the state, WardsAuto data shows.

Toyota’s Mirai led the 3-model FCV sector with 1,034 sales in 2016, while Hyundai sold 43 Tucson FCVs.

Movement into other regions of the country with the Clarity will depend on infrastructure development. “If one station exists in downtown New York we probably wouldn’t (start sales there),” Mendel says.

Toyota plans to launch Mirai sales in the Northeast later this year, with expectations of a half-dozen hydrogen-refueling stations opening in the New York metro area.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com